Saturday, February 28, 2009

McCarthy not prepared to be left on the sidelines

Hot property James McCarthy is ready to snub a mega move this summer - after insisting he won't leave Hamilton to sit on the sidelines of a bigger club.

The 18-year-old Irish u21 midfielder admits money talks and Accies could look to cash in if one of his many admirers were to lodge a lucrative bid But the level-headed star insists he will only move on if he is guaranteed a top-flight game every week - and he knows that won't happen. As prepared for today' visit of SPL leaders Rangers, McCarthy, left, said: "I'm really happy where I am. I'll just have to wait and see what happens in the summer.

"I know that if someone comes in and the club accept an offer then you need to sit down and talk with the club and those around you who give you decent advice.

"But I'm happy to be playing week in week out in the SPL.

"I wouldn't be pleased just sitting in the stands or playing in the reserves. That's not going to do my career any good.

"I'm happy to get as many games as I can at the top, keep improving and see what happens from there.

I'm very content at the moment."

To enhance that point, McCarthy is desperate for Billy Reid to remain his manager next season.

The Ireland Under-21 international reckons the Accies boss will also be a wanted man when the campaign ends because of the success he has enjoyed in his debut season in the SPL.

McCarthy said: "I definitely don't want the gaffer to go anywhere because he gave me my chance and has been so influential in my development.

"There is so much still to do and I really want to continue working with him.

"I hope the manager stays. It's only natural that a successful boss will have clubs looking at him but this is a great club."

Accies are just a point off the top six and 10 ahead of bottom club Inverness. Having been promoted to the top flight only last summer, it is no surprise McCarthy is looking over his shoulder rather than up at the stars.

He said: "We are on a good wee run but are not going to get too carried away.

"We'll keep our feet on the ground and make sure our priority is to stay in this league.

"We're not thinking about the top six and we let other people do all the talking.

"Our target this season is just to stay in the SPL."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Gibson hoping for Carling Cup final appearance

Ireland midfielder Darron Gibson can't wait to get his first taste of playing at Wembley, when Manchester United face Spurs in the Carling Cup final, this Sunday.

The gifted 21-year-old whose place in the starting line-up for this weekend looks assured, after manager Sir Alex Ferguson admitted that he had earned his place following a man of the match display in the recent FA Cup win over Derby County.

"Darron Gibson did really well on Sunday," said Ferguson following the match at Pride Park.

"He has got into the Carling Cup final team with that performance. He has played in every round, so he deserves it."

Nevertheless the modest Gibson, talking prior to Tuesday’s Champions League encounter with Inter Milan were he was on the bench, is just taking everything in his stride.

"Obviously I and everyone at the club is concentrating on the Inter game, but I know later in the week everyone will be buzzing for the cup," he said.

"Personally if I get the chance to play at Wembley then it will be unbelievable, but even though the manager said something after the Derby match about me starting in the cup final, he hasn't said anything to me."

"I can't wait until Sunday now, I'm really looking forward to it" said Darron. "If I start the game it will be the highlight of my career, make no mistake about that, but it will all count for nothing if we don't win the trophy.

"I've never been to Wembley, but I don't think I will be intimidated. I've played at Croke Park with the Republic of Ireland and at Old Trafford with United and both hold just as many supporters as Wembley does".

"I've had a good run in the Carling Cup this season, having played in every game and I'm really looking forward to playing in the final. It will be my first big final so it will be great to be part of it.

"But, to be honest, I would understand if I didn't start and the 'gaffer' chose to go with a stronger team, but I would also be extremely disappointed if I didn't play a part in the game."

Manager Alex Ferguson has talked about the Competition for places in the centre of Uniteds midfield

"The young ones who have played in the League Cup will play in it," said Ferguson. "I'm not changing my mind on that one.

"The middle of midfield is my biggest problem. I've got more options there than anywhere else.

"I've got Anderson, Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and young Darron Gibson who is coming on in leaps and bounds. It gives me headaches, but more options."

The young midfielder's mother and father John and Liz are making the trip from Derry to Wembley.

In fact it seems over a dozen family and friends are all going to cheer on their boy.

"I have heard quite a few people are making the trip over from the city, so hopefully I can give them something to cheer about."

Having really started to break into the current European and World Club Champions side this season, the Hazelbank lad has played in a number of positions, but a place in centre midfield looks to be his spot on Sunday.

"Obviously you don't mind playing in whatever position the manager tells you as long as you are playing, but I played well enough in the Derby game because I won the man of the match award, so I think if I do start on Sunday then I'll be in there."

Gibby, like every player on the Old Trafford books states that the manager gives him and all the squad the belief that they are good enough to play for the biggest club in the world.

"The manager has won everything in the game so if he has faith in you, which he has shown not just to me but a lot of the other younger players in the Carling Cup then that can only help you," concluded the Derry man.

O'Toole delighted with Sheffield United move

Sheffield United have signed Watford & Ireland U21 midfielder John Joe O'Toole on loan for the rest of the season.

The 20-year-old, who has scored eight goals this season, could make his debut in Sunday's clash with Birmingham.

O'Toole said: "I'm just delighted to come up here. I jumped at the opportunity."

"I just want to do my best here and hopefully put a few in the net and see what happens," added the Ireland Under-21 international.

O'Toole was rumoured to be a January transfer window target for Championship leaders Wolves prior to Christmas.

But he has fallen out of favour at Vicarage Road, having not started a league game for Watford since being substituted at half time in the 4-2 home defeat to Bristol City on Boxing Day.

He will not be available for the Blades' FA Cup fifth round replay against Hull City on Thursday night as he is cup tied

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

O'Brien determined to fight for place in Trapattoni's squad.

Motherwell winger Jim O'Brien is determined to break into the Ireland senior squad - even if he suffers the same abuse dished out to James McCarthy & Aidan McGeady.

The Fir Park winger has, like Hamilton rival McCarthy, opted to represent Ireland on the international stage.

Jim lived with his grandad John, who moved to Scotland at 18, for a decade before his death in 2000. From that moment the ex-Celtic kid vowed to play for Ireland and has represented ‘The Boys In Green’ at U19 & U21 levels.

Now a regular for Motherwell, O'Brien believes he can catch the eye of Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni and force his way into the Italian's plans for the future.
If he succeeds, Jim is likely to face the same sectarianism endured every week by Hamilton wonderkid James McCarthy, from fans who seem intent on bringing shame on the SPL.

But the 21-year-old insists he's ready for anything the bigots throw at him if it means a call-up.

Jim said: "The international scene has never left my mind. I believe I can make the Ireland set-up but it's about playing consistently well here, If I'm playing every week here I don't see why I can't break in to the squad. There are guys in the Irish league who have been capped and the SPL is a better standard.

"The stick James gets is poor. But if fans believe they can put someone off their game they'll do it. I used to get abuse warming-up at Ibrox but you have to get on with it. It doesn't seem to bother James because he is doing well. And if I get stick, it won't bother me".

"I've made a decision I'm willing to stick to. I had a great connection with my grandad and wanted to play for him after he died. Hopefully a cap will come."

After a slow start at Fir Park, O'Brien is now starting to fulfil the potential he showed at Celtic. He was tipped to make an impact in Gordon Strachan's side but the breakthrough never came. O'Brien spent time on loan at Dunfermline two years ago and helped them reach the Scottish Cup Final against the Hoops.

He was devastated when Strachan refused him permission to play at Hampden because of fears he wouldn't be accepted by Celtic fans if he'd prevented them winning the trophy.

O’Brien said: "The cup final was probably the end of my Celtic career. You want to play on the big occasions but I didn't get the chance at Hampden. Gordon didn't want me to miss out but after thinking it through, he changed his mind".

"I might have been the difference that day because it was a tight game that Celtic won 1-0. Gordon said I could hardly play in the cup final, do something against them, then go back and expect to get in the team. I don't hold grudges. But last season I didn't get a fair crack of the whip at Celtic".

"There were cup games where I felt I could have played and people were telling me my chance was coming. Aiden McGeady was suspended for an Old Firm match and I was tipped to start. Sadly Phil O'Donnell died and the game was postponed. But I got a clean break by coming here and want to do well."

O'Brien is adamant he can help the Steelmen put a serious dent in Celtic's title hopes today on Fir Park's dodgy pitch.

Jim said: "We can have a say in the title race by getting results against Rangers and Celtic, especially on that pitch.

"We're on a good run and Celtic have hit a sticky patch. I want to show what they missed out on."

Monday, February 23, 2009

Fahey stunnned by Birmingham welcome

Irish midfielder Keith Fahey admits that he is stunned with how quickly Birmingham City fans have turned him into a St Andrew’s star.

Despite having only played a handful of games for his new club, Fahey already seems to be held in high regard by Birmingham supporters. Little over two months ago, the Dubliner was unknown to even the most ardent of Blues fans, yet internet groups in his honour have already sprouted up - including one that takes a swipe at local rivals Villa called: ‘Keith Fahey is better than Gareth Barry’.

His first goal in English football, described as ‘Messi-like’ by Blues boss Alex McLeish and ‘a fluke’ by Fahey himself, last weekend further heightened his reputation in the blue half of Birmingham. And having spent several seasons at St Pat’s Athletic and Drogheda United in the League of Ireland, the modest midfielder admits to being taken aback by the early attention.

“I am a bit surprised, I’ve done alright,” said 26-year-old Fahey. “In the games I’ve come on, I’ve made an impact, I’ve done OK in the games I’ve played and the fluke goal did me favours.

“The fans haven’t seen a lot of me, they’ve only seen me play in a few near-full games and a few substitute appearances so it’s nice. They’re probably just looking out for someone new".

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hamilton boss Praises 'sublime' James McCarthy

Hamilton prodigy James McCarthy polished his credentials as one of Scottish football's best young talents again at Falkirk on Saturday with a moment of magic to help Accies take all three points.

The 18-year-old midfielder, who has been capped at under-21 level for Ireland, picked up the young player of the month award for January and has carried on his good form as Billy Reid's side continue their unlikely progress up the Clydesdale Bank Premier League.

With 15 minutes remaining at The Falkirk Stadium, and the game tied at 1-1, McCarthy set up Paul McGowan to score the winning goal with the most delicate of chipped passes.

Reid, who seems to have spent almost every week of the club's first season in the SPL praising the youngster, was left once again grasping for superlatives.

"In the last eight or nine weeks he has been fantastic," Reid said.

"In every game he plays he produces a bit of skill.

"His pass and movement with McGowan for the goal was fantastic.

"He is sublime at times but he works back the way as well. His consistency for a young player is astonishing."

Accies defender Chris Swailes, who scored an almost comical own goal to gift Falkirk the lead before Simon Mensing spared his blushes by grabbing the equaliser, was the latest team-mate of McCarthy to predict big things for the teenager.

"He is a promising lad and I think he will hit the heights," the Englishman said.

"Whether he stays in Scotland remains to be seen but the world is his oyster.

"I imagine Hamilton's problem will be holding on to him.

"As long as he is playing well for us then that is great but there will be a few people knocking on the door."

Tipped as relegation candidates before the season kicked off, Hamilton find themselves fighting for a top-six spot after a sticky start and Reid praised his players for adapting to the rigours of the SPL.

"It has taken us to halfway through the season to learn to win games and now we are doing that regularly," he said.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sheridan to sit-out Celtic v Motherwell game

There will be no place for Cillian Sheridan in the Motherwell attack against Celtic on Sunday – the young Irishman is on loan from the club and cannot play against them – but that could work against the Parkhead side, according to Mark McGhee.

The Motherwell manager said: "To be truthful, if Cillian had been OK to turn out I would probably have played 4-4-2 with him and David Clarkson up front.

"But now I'll maybe leave Clarkson on his own and as a result we should be a bit stuffier. The fact that we can't play him might not help Celtic."

There is no official rule about loan players being prohibited from facing their main employers, but Scottish clubs observe a self-denying ordinance. "If Sheridan played against us it would be an awful lot of pressure on him," said Gordon Strachan, the Celtic manager.

"What if he got a penalty kick in the last minute and cost us points? Or what if he fouled in the Motherwell box and we got a last-minute winner from that?"

Strachan, though, believes that Motherwell pose considerable threat even without Sheridan. "They weren't doing well earlier in the season but that's because Mark had a lot of players missing from a small squad. Since they've come back you can see the difference in Motherwell's form – they're on a run now and we have to be very careful."

Friday, February 20, 2009

St Ledger waiting for Ireland call

More than two years after he was first called into the Ireland squad by Steve Staunton, Preston North End defender Sean St Ledger is still waiting for his first international cap.

And while the centre-half has admitted his frustration at being left out in the cold under Giovanni Trapattoni, he has dismissed suggestions that he is about to turn his back on Ireland and throw in his lot with Northern Ireland.

The 24-year-old has been a mainstay in defence for a Preston side who are in fourth place in the Championship table and has earned widespread praise for his defensive displays.

But the FAI have yet to come calling again for St Ledger, who qualified for Ireland through his Carlow-born grandfather, and some fans at Deepdale were surprised when young full back Eddie Nolan was called into the Irish squad for the recent World Cup qualifier against Georgia as defensive cover ahead of St Ledger.

"I am frustrated and disappointed that my chance with Ireland hasn't come yet, but I will just have to be patient and wait for my chance if it comes along," St Ledger told the Evening Herald.

"But there is no chance of me turning away from Ireland and looking to play for Northern Ireland, one or two people mentioned it to me but it's not in my mind. My allegiance is to Ireland and no one else, I don't just want to get international caps for anyone, I want to play for Ireland so there's no chance of me playing for anyone else.

"An international career with Ireland would be amazing for me, but sometimes you can't get too hung up on these things and sometimes they happen when you least expect them, that was the case when I was first in the Ireland squad three years ago, the call came from nowhere and maybe I'll get that call out of the blue again someday.

"Giovanni Trapattoni and his staff know where I am and where I play, they have been to see us play and they were impressed with Eddie Nolan when they saw him play for Preston, I just hope I get a chance to catch the eye again."

St Ledger, who made his name with Peterborough United before a move to Preston in 2006, was briefly involved with the Ireland U21 side under Don Givens but was never capped and his first real taste of international football was when Steve Staunton caused a major surprise by adding the Preston man to his senior squad for the opening game of the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.

Just months earlier he had been playing in England's fourth division (League Two) but in September 2006 St Ledger was on the bench for Ireland's 1-0 defeat in Stuttgart against Germany - the man next in line for the central defensive positions if anything had happened to first-choice centre halves Richard Dunne and Andy O'Brien - and was also a sub for the qualifiers against Cyprus and the Czech Republic.

But since then there's been nothing, and like other players who emerged into prominence in the Staunton era (Jon Douglas, Alan O'Brien, Jay Tabb, Darren Potter), there has been no involvement with the national team under Trapattoni.

"It's disappointing not to get the call but I will wait my turn," he adds. "I'm not the only one who has been left out, I think our striker here Stephen Elliott should be in the Ireland squad as well. We have four Irish players here: myself, Stephen, Wayne Henderson and Eddie Nolan, it would be great for the club to have all four of us in the squad.

"We might get a chance in the summer, Ireland have that game against Nigeria in London in May and then the qualifier in Bulgaria in June, by that stage some of the Premier League players might be injured or unavailable so I have to make sure I am fit and ready if the call does come.

"Ireland don't have too many central defenders at the moment. Richard Dunne and John O'Shea seem to be the men in possession, Paul McShane can play there as well but we don't have too many after that so I hope I can be next in line when Ireland need a centre half," added St Ledger, who was first made aware of his eligibility for Ireland when he lined out for Peterborough alongside Irish boys like Killian Brennan, Neale Fenn and John O'Flynn.

"I have been happy with my form this season. We have been good defensively and kept a few clean sheets in the last while, but we can do better and certainly out away form can improve".

Stephen Hunt: Tabb will make impact in promotion challenge.

Ireland international Stephen Hunt is confident that new signing, and fellow Irishman Jay Tabb will play a key role for Reading between now and the end of the season.

Tabb, a £600,000 Coventry City signing is yet to even make the bench under boss Steve Coppell but Hunt sees the diminutive player as the main threat for his position now that Bobby Convey has left the club to sign for San Jose Earthquakes.

“Bobby has gone and I wish him well but Jay is more of a threat now,” explained Hunt.

“He comes in, puts in his shift in training and has done well.
“He can play left or right wing, central midfield or behind the striker so it’s good competition for me. I know I feel him breathing down my neck. It’s good to have that.

“He’s a very good player. He was Player of the Year at Coventry and at Brentford where I played with him so I know all about him.

“I think he could play a big part in the remaining games if he does get his chance. We’re also looking for a big impact from Jimmy Kebe, me and the two strikers.”

And Hunt also quipped: “I know all about Jay’s golf abilities as well. He’s a very good player with a lovely, picturesque swing so I’ll be keeping my money in my pocket. Whether he’s got the bottle on the greens I’m not too sure.”

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Flood taking nothing for granted

Irishman Willo Flood insists he will not not take a place in the Celtic team for granted, despite being handed his debut in the Old Firm derby.

Flood started Sunday's goalless Clydesdale Bank Premier League draw at Parkhead only two weeks after joining his boyhood idols.

The 23-year-old Dublin born midfielder - who spent 18 months on loan at Dundee United before parent club Cardiff agreed to sell him to Celtic - knows the quality of the squad the Scottish champions possess means he can never rest on his laurels.

He said: "The standard of players in the squad is what I expected.

"I've played against Celtic often enough to know how good guys like Scott Brown, Paul Hartley and Barry Robson are. It's competitive in training but that's because we all want to play.

"All the players have a winning streak in them. There is a lot of talent in this squad, but that's what life at a big club is like. We are all fighting for places in the team.

"I just want to work hard in training and hopefully catch the manager's eye. I want to get a few more games before the end of the season and hopefully help bring the title back to Celtic Park."

Sunday's result left leaders Celtic two points clear of arch-rivals Rangers and Flood knows there is all to play for in the SPL run-in.

"This is a crucial stage of the season, but I think we all know that it's time to stand up, be counted and take it home from here," he said. "There are 13 games to go and we need to push on.

"We have the quality in the squad to do that and I think the spirit is there as well.

"There's a good camaraderie between the boys and we are all chasing the same goal.

"Fingers crossed, we can have a successful end to the season."

Celtic will find themselves playing catch-up for the first time since November if Rangers beat Kilmarnock on Saturday.

The champions travel to Motherwell 24 hours later and Flood believes Mark McGhee's in-form side are capable of derailing the Hoops' title bid.

"I'm preparing for a really hard game on Sunday," Flood said.

"I rate Motherwell highly as a team and I wouldn't be surprised if they made a late charge for third place.

"They will definitely be up there challenging come the end of the season because they have a great squad and a good manager. They are hitting form at exactly the right time."

Much has been made of the appalling state of Motherwell's Fir Park pitch and Celtic have hinted it may influence team selection this weekend.

Flood told Celtic View: "I just hope the Fir Park pitch is better than it's been over the past year.

"At times last season, it was like playing on St Andrew's beach but hopefully that won't be the case on Sunday."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Kevin Doyle: Beat Bulgaria and make it a two-horse race for qualification

Kevin Doyle has spoken of the importance of getting three points against Bulgaria in next months crucial World Cup Group 8 qualifier in Croke Park.

Doyle helped Ireland join Italy at the top of their World Cup qualifying group following last week’s 2-1 win over Georgia.

Trapattoni’s men now face a home match against Bulgaria at the end of next month before facing a trip to Italy four days later.

Doyle said: “We will look to get a win at home and then whatever we can get away, but we need to keep the pressure on by beating Bulgaria.

“Top goes straight through and the second goes into a play-off which is tough. If we can get a win against Bulgaria it means it’s virtually impossible for them to catch us.”

And Doyle says being named Ireland’s Player of the Year is an honour.

The Reading and Ireland striker was last week named the FAI’s top man for his heroics in 2008.

And he now has a crucial role in his country’s bid to qualify for the 2010 World Cup and has played in every competitive game under Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni.

Doyle said: “I was up against Shay Given and John O’Shea so I am very happy to win because that is stiff competition. I am delighted with it. It’s a real honour.

“John has won a Champions League and Shay Given is one of the busiest and best keepers in the league. They have both played well for Ireland and I won’t forget this in a hurry.

“It is nice to win because the people who have won the award before have been pretty good.”

Doyle suffered a miserable season with Reading last year as the club were relegated from the Premier League, but he has bounced back to form during this campaign.

He added: “My year wasn’t fantastic with Reading because of relegation, but I did pretty well for Ireland and the last six months for Reading has been pretty good.

“It is nice to be recognised by other people and have them think I am doing well. The press in Ireland obviously think I did a decent job, so that is good, especially considering who I was up against.”

Ireland to play in Limerick

Thomond Park in Limerick is set to host the Ireland football team for two international friendlies over the next 12 months.

FAI officials are close to finalising an agreement to play at the Limerick venue on the 12 August.

And FAI chief Executive John Delaney is also in talks with Munster Rugby about playing a second match at the stadium next spring.

'The Aviva Stadium is where we'll play all our internationals going forward but there's a window of opportunity now to play some games in Thomond Park,' said Delaney.

'It's a wonderful facility and will also facilitate some of our supporters in the Munster and Connacht areas.'

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Coppell lauds Doyle's commitment & dedication

Steve Coppell believes Kevin Doyle ranks as one of his best-ever signings during his 25-year managerial career.

Royals’ 17-goal leading scorer was last week named Ireland’s Player of the Year for 2008.

Doyle arrived at Madejski Stadium in the summer of 2005 as an unknown from Cork City for a fee of just £78,000.

In the season that followed he helped fire Reading to the title and he has so far netted 55 goals in 137 starts, plus 14 substitute appearances.

Coppell has unearthed plenty of unpolished gems in his time, the most famous being Ian Wright from non-league football when he was in charge of Crystal Palace in the 80s.

Wright went on to become an Arsenal legend and an England international.

But Royals’ boss reckons Doyle is just as good a signing.

He told the Evening Post: “He is definitely right up there with the best of them, because of his character as well as ability.

“I would never say one is a better signing than another, but his contribution and commitment, in an age when it is easy to think the grass is greener on the other side, is terrific.”

Doyle is now a key player for his country. He has started every competitive match under new boss Giovanni Trapattoni, including the Republic’s 2-1 win over Georgia in a World Cup qualifier at Croke Park last week.

And Coppell believes he is a worthy winner of Ireland’s Player of the Year.

Royals’ boss added: “I think it is recognition by the Irish who voted for him.

“At Reading we have a strong Irish influence. I am sure a lot of Irish people watch our games and they will see his unflinching dedication and commitment.

“He is a player who has come from their domestic league and who has, right from day one, seized the opportunity with enthusiasm and ability. There are times he could have been a prima donna but he has continued to play his football in an exceptional manner for his country and club.

“He has often been used as a lone player up front for his country and is expected to cover a million miles.

“But he does it without complaining. During and after games he is 100 per cent committed and he continues to be a success.

“He is the kind of player managers and coaches dream about in an age where agents have a lot of influence and there are a lot of other agendas.

“He just gets on with the job. If he has missed any training sessions I could count them on the finger of one hand since he has been with us. There are not many players like him.”

Monday, February 16, 2009

McCann good enough for the Premiership

Burnley boss Owen Coyle believes goalscoring hero Chris McCann is already good enough to play in the Premiership.

The Ireland under 21 international netted the winner against Wolves at the weekend to keep alive Burnley's hopes of pushing into the play-offs and Coyle was delighted with the Dubliner.

Coyle said: "It was a terrific piece of football for the goal; a great cross from Wade Elliott and Chris McCann does what he does best, arriving in the box and it's a great finish.

"I've said before I think Chris McCann could step in and play in the Premier League tomorrow. Having worked with him, he's getting better all the time.

"He's one of a group of players we have that have shown they can stand toe-to-toe with the very best players that are going about."

The Dublin born midfielder has had a fractious relationship with Ireland u21 manager Don Givens, however with his exceptional club form for Burnley this season, a call-up to Giovanni Trapattoni's senior squad may be a distinct possibility.

In 2007 McCann opted out of the Irish U21 squad to play Bulgaria two hours prior to kick-off claiming he was wasting his time having been selected on the bench. An indication of how this may affect his future in the Irish set up was provided when U21 manager Don Givens was asked if he would pick him again and he replied "Will I pick him again? Would you?" Givens later apolgised adding "I take it back, its nice to see Chris developing into a player of true class"

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Man of the match display from Darron Gibson

Irish central midfielder Darron Gibson played a major role in Man United's comfortable 4-1 win over Derby in the FA Cup fifth round today and Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed the Irishman's display cemented his place in the Reds' Carling Cup final team.

Gibson was named man of the match after scoring United's second goal in a classy midfield display, and Ferguson revealed the 21-year-old will definitely line up against Tottenham on March 1.

The Reds boss told MUTV: "We’ve been trying to test him in games and his performance today earned him a place in the Carling Cup final. He’s featured in all the games in the competition and deserves to play against Spurs, but today he confirmed his position there."

Derry born Gibson represented Ireland at u17, u19, u21 and ‘b’ international level before making his senior debut against Denmark in August 2007. He made his first senior start against Cyprus in a World Cup qualifier in October 2008, when he partnered Glenn Whelan in central midfield.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sheridan looking to prove his worth

Cillian Sheridan added an Ireland U21 cap to a list of achievements from this season which included Champions League football and his debut SPL goal for Celtic.

But the County Cavan striker admits that he has a long way to go before he can find his way into Giovanni Trapattoni's senior squad at international level.

Sheridan, who played the full 90 minutes in Motherwell's 1-0 win over Hamilton today, after his loan move from Celtic, made his U21 debut in Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Germany in Cork and the 19-year-old played a role as Ireland came from a goal down and earned a creditable draw against a more experienced German side.

"The senior Ireland squad is a long way away for me even though I've had a decent run in the Celtic team this season and a bit of exposure with those games in the Champions League against Manchester United," says the Ulster man.

"There is so much competition up front with Ireland now, you have Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle as the established two up front. But then you have a lot of people who are fighting to get a run, lads like Shane Long and Noel Hunt, who have done very well for their clubs and played for Ireland already.

"There are also people who can't even get into the senior Ireland squad now, lads like Anthony Stokes, so up front there are a lot of people looking to play for Ireland and only two can start, so I know I am down the pecking order.

"But if I can prove myself to Mr Trapattoni at U21 level and get a few goals for my club, then he might take notice. But I know I have a lot of work to do.

"There is a chance there with Ireland. Trapattoni is in contact with Don Givens to know how the U21 players are doing and there are a lot of young players in the senior squad already.

"I think I need to take a step backwards so I can get forward and that's the case with my loan move to Motherwell.

"I need to go and prove that I can play on a weekly basis, because I've had such a bad run with injuries, and then go and do that for Celtic," added Sheridan, who was relieved to finally make his debut for the Irish U21s in that draw against Germany, over a year after he was first called into the U21 panel by Don Givens.

"It was nice to get the debut out of the way, good to have under my belt. I have been in the U21 squad for the last year or so but because of injuries I wasn't able to come over and play -- thankfully I've managed to do that now," he says. "I have missed a lot of football with Ireland due to all my injuries. I think the last time I played was with the U19s in Dublin last year, when we played Germany.

"So Tuesday in Cork was a good result for us. Germany are a good side, they have players with all the top clubs in Germany, their lads have played in the Bundesliga, the Champions League and the UEFA Cup and most of our players don't have that experience."

Sheridan is now in his third season of first team football, having made his Celtic debut in March 2007, just two days after his 18th birthday. Last season was a write-off for the former Belvedere player as he managed just one appearance for Celtic due to injuries, but he emerged earlier this season due to a shortage of senior strikers at Parkhead, Sheridan making 16 first team appearances including two Champions League outings against Manchester United.

The return from injury of Strachan's crocked strikers has pushed Sheridan down the ladder so he's been sent out on loan to Mark McGhee's Motherwell to gain experience.

"It's a good move for me as it's a chance to get games, which I might not have been able to do at Celtic because the squad is so big," Sheridan says.

"I know I still have a future at Celtic and I think the staff there will be watching me at Motherwell. Hopefully I can have a good four months at Motherwell, score a few goals, have a good break over the summer and go back to Parkhead fresh for the new season."

Andy Reid still hopes for Irish return

Andy Reid has pledged to fight his way back into the Ireland side, after admitting that watching Wednesday’s victory over Georgia was one of toughest moments of his career.

Reid was dropped from Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland squad last autumn, amid suggestions he had fallen out with the Italian manager over his role in the team.

He failed to win his place back ahead of this week’s World Cup qualifier with Georgia, and appears destined for a lengthy spell in the international wilderness.

But while Trapattoni appears to have closed the door on Reid’s international ambitions, the Sunderland midfielder insists he remains desperate to return to the ranks.

And having played his way back into the Black Cats team in recent weeks, the former Charlton and Tottenham playmaker is eyeing another international outing in the not-too-distant future.

“I watched the match on Wednesday and it was hard to watch,” said Reid, who has won 27 caps since making his debut against Canada in 2003.

“I would love to be involved.

“I’m always available to play for Ireland, any time they want me to play they know where I am. I would love to be involved. I’m always available.

“If they pick me, I will always do everything I can for the green shirt because I always give my all for Ireland whenever I pull it on. I have always been so proud to do that and nothing has changed.

“All I can do is keep going.

I’ve set up a few goals recently, and hopefully I’ll get the call.”

Friday, February 13, 2009

McGeady determined to build on strong Irish start

Ireland winger Aiden McGeady is determined not to let the chance of a trip to the World Cup finals slip from his grasp.

The 22-year-old Celtic winger turned in an excellent individual display as Giovanni Trapattoni's side drew level on points with Group Eight leaders Italy with a 2-1 win over Georgia at Croke Park on Wednesday evening.

Ireland had to come from behind to secure a third win in four qualifiers as they took their tally to 10 points, but for McGeady, the victory rather than the performance was what mattered most.

He said: "The result was the most important thing. Not to win would have undone all the good work in the first three games of the campaign.

"Now we are on 10 points, level with Italy, and we have given ourselves a great platform to go on and qualify.

"There is still a lot of football to be played. There's always room for improvement, but we are playing some good football as well."

Giovanni Trapattoni has told Aiden McGeady he is expecting even more from him as Ireland's World Cup qualifying campaign gathers pace.

Trapattoni was delighted with his contribution to a priceless win, although he is confident there is even more to come from the midfielder.

He said: 'McGeady was very, very important, but he can improve again. With more confidence, he has the impossibilty to improve.

'He has two very good legs. After the first half, I said to him, 'Believe in yourself, believe in yourself, believe in yourself'.

'He became more and more confident and he has the possibility to grow.'

If McGeady's performance, coupled with skipper Robbie Keane's lethal finishing, won the day for Ireland, Trapattoni was particularly pleased with the way his players stuck to the blueprint he has drawn up for lasting success.

His desire to play two combative players in the middle of the park has proved detrimental to Andy Reid's international career, but it has made Glenn Whelan a key member of the team.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

McCarthy staying grounded after SPL player award

James McCarthy insists there is no chance of him believing his own hype as long as he remains at Hamilton.

The 18-year-old Irish U21 international midfielder has been in top form recently and was rewarded for those displays with his second successive Clydesdale Bank Young Player of the Month award.

It was a hat-trick for the Lanarkshire club, with boss Billy Reid and goalkeeper Tomas Cerny picking up the Manager and senior Player gongs - the first time all three prizes have gone to one club since Rangers enjoyed a clean sweep in September 2003.

There is no doubt McCarthy continues to claim most of the credit with his flashes of individual brilliance.

But he claims he is in no danger of getting carried away by the constant praise or the persistent speculation over his future.

He said: "I'm happy to stay here and work away and get good experience playing every week in the SPL.

"I've got the older lads, like Mark McLaughlin and Alex Neil, who help me keep my feet on the ground.

"The gaffer too. If I ever get too big for my boots, he will bring me back down again.

"It's great to win the award, it's fantastic. But I think anyone could have won it because we have been great this month."

Accies are on an impressive winning streak of six games in all competitions, largely thanks to a change to a more conservative style of play and McCarthy has no complaints about swapping panache for points.

He said: "We have changed our system a wee bit but I think we are still playing decent football. This is the way we need to play to get results and I'm happy with that."

Craig Levein criticised Hamilton for being negative after his Dundee United side were held to a 1-1 draw at Tannadice in November but Reid believes recent results prove a change of tactics were justified.

He said: "One or two folk were slightly unhappy with the formation we played - maybe that's because how we played against them didn't suit them.

"But it's my job to make sure people are not happy when we are playing against them."

He added: "I was in the First Division for five years and I knew all the players, I knew what formations teams would play and I knew strengths and weaknesses.

"I watched as many SPL games as I could last season in the hope that we would get to the SPL and I watched a lot of games on DVD.

"But it's not the same until you play against these teams. After over half a season in the SPL, I feel like I have adjusted to that."

Trapattoni Hails Keane's match-winning display

Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni has hailed Robbie Keane's match-winning display against Georgia as proof of the quality that Liverpool failed to recognise.

Keane's second-half double ensured Ireland claimed a controversial 2-1 win over the Georgians and moved joint top of group 8 alongside Italy.

It also served as a reminder of the striking qualities that appeared to go unnoticed during Keane's unhappy six months at Liverpool prior to his recent return to Tottenham.

Trapattoni said his skipper had displayed real character. "He has not played every week, but he played here tonight in front of 50,000 in a World Cup qualifier, and you could see he enjoyed it," the Italian said. "Robbie was very important for us."

Georgia boss Hector Cuper claimed his side were robbed of at least a point after Ireland were awarded a dubious second half penalty.

Keane converted to cancel out Georgia's shock first-minute opener and then claimed the winner four minutes later.

The Georgians had every reason to feel aggrieved when Finnish referee Jouni Hyytia, taking charge of his last competitive international, awarded a penalty for a handball from a pass that was destined for Keane in an offside position. To add insult to injury the ball appeared to strike Ucha Lobjanidze's shoulder.

Cuper was restrained in his comments, accepting that his team had been under sustained pressure at the time of the controversial decision.

"I don't know if we lost the match because of the penalty awarded by the referee but it cost us a point," he said. "The situation was strange because no-one knew why it was given.

"Of course, the players were very angry and I can say it effected their concentration. It influenced negatively the morale of the team."

Cuper added: "In the first half, the match was equal. In the second half, unfortunately, we couldn't manage to maintain the rhythm.

"I was concerned before the game because Georgian players were still in preparation after the winter break and I knew it would make it difficult for us in the second half. But for the most part we managed."

A mix up in the Irish defence involving third-choice right-back Stephen Kelly, allowed Karlruhe striker Alexander Iashvili in for the softest of goals after a good flick by David Siradze.

The Irish team looked stunned for the remainder of the opening quarter until a Keith Andrews goal on his competitive debut was ruled out midway through the first half.

Ireland were shocked again in the 58th minute when Iashvili thought he scored a second only for the referee to rule offside.

But it was their last major scare before the controversial penalty and a fine diving header four minutes later took Keane's international tally to 37 goals.

Trapattoni accepted the penalty was fortunate but refused to see it as a turning point as his team pummelled the Georgian defence for the majority of the second half.

"I think we got the luck but every Sunday in every country there are situations like this," said the Italian.

"In the first half we deserved not lose. But I think we deserved to win because it is not easy to get a great reaction from the team like we got in the second half."

Trapattoni admitted his players had been demoralised after being booed off the pitch at half-time by sections of the home support.

"I gave them a positive message," he said. "I said to them play the ball simple, simple, simple - but quickly. It was difficult because there were 19 players within 30 metres.

"They had three midfielders we had two but in the second half we won lots of ball. That was very important."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Andrews to start for Ireland

Keith Andrews will start for Ireland in Wednesday's World Cup qualifier against Georgia at Croke Park.

Blackburn player Andrews will partner Glenn Whelan in central midfield with Manchester United youngster Darron Gibson losing his starting place.

Dublin born Andrews will earn his second cap after scoring on his debut in the friendly defeat by Poland in November.

Sunderland's Paul McShane remains a fitness doubt for the game.

Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni confirmed to the Football Association of Ireland website that 28-year-old Andrews would earn a starting role.

A decision on McShane's availability will be made after Tuesday evening's training session in Dublin.

McShane trained on Monday but assistant boss Marco Tardelli said that the defender's hamstring injury made his prospects of starting "so-so".

Birmingham's Stephen Kelly, who is currently on loan at Stoke, is McShane's most likely replacement.

Preston's Eddie Nolan is out of the squad because of an Achilles injury.

Uncapped Nolan was only drafted into the squad on Sunday following Steve Finnan's withdrawal.

Sunderland defender McShane has been out of action since picking up his injury in the win over Fulham on 27 January.

Kelly made his debut for Stoke at Sunderland on Saturday after completing a loan move from Birmingham.

Ireland head into Wednesday night's game knowing a second victory over Georgia - they beat them 2-1 at the neutral venue of Mainz in September - would take them level on points with Group Eight leaders Italy.

Shay Given - Manchester City
Paul McShane – Sunderland (subject to fitness)
John O'Shea - Manchester United
Richard Dunne - Manchester City
Kevin Kilbane - Hull City
Aiden McGeady - Glasgow Celtic
Glenn Whelan - Stoke City
Keith Andrews - Blackburn Rovers
Damien Duff - Newcastle United
Kevin Doyle - Reading
Robbie Keane – Spurs

Monday, February 9, 2009

Ireland will make late decision on McShane

Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni will make a late decision on Paul McShane ahead of Wednesday's World Cup qualifier against Georgia.

The 23-year-old County Wicklow born defender trained with his team-mates in Malahide today after sitting out yesterday's session.

McShane reported for international duty as he continued his recovery from the hamstring injury he suffered in the Barclays Premier League victory over Fulham on 27 January having missed his club's last three games.

However, despite his presence on the training pitch this afternoon, assistant boss Marco Tardelli has admitted a final decision will be taken on his fitness tomorrow.

Tardelli said: 'Paul McShane is so-so, but we will decide on him probably tomorrow morning or afternoon.

'But in training, he was fine.'

Stephen Kelly, who made his debut for Stoke City at Sunderland on Saturday after completing a loan move from Birmingham City, is standing by to deputise for a man who has become a regular in the side under Trapattoni.

Even if McShane does make it, the Italian has already lost one member of his defensive pool with 20-year-old Preston player Eddie Nolan, who was called up from the Under-21s squad following Steve Finnan's withdrawal, having returned to his club with an Achilles problem.

However, the news is better of Reading striker Kevin Doyle, who was briefly knocked unconscious in a collision with North End keeper Andy Lonergan during the 0-0 Coca-Cola Championship draw between the sides at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday.

The 25-year-old, who was last night named Ireland's Player of the Year at the FAI's International Awards ceremony, trained today after also missing yesterday's session and showed know ill effects.

Tardelli said: 'He is fine - you saw him.'

Doyle lined up alongside skipper Robbie Keane in a game at the end of training in a side which featured Kelly at right-back and Blackburn Rovers' Keith Andrews alongside Glenn Whelan in central midfield, with Steven Reid injured and Andy Reid not included in the squad.

Keane has found himself in the spotlight once again in the last week or so having ended his miserable spell at Liverpool with a move back to former club Tottenham Hotspur.

He made his second debut for Spurs in yesterday's North London derby draw with Arsenal, and Tardelli revealed he joined up with a spring in his step.

He said: 'He is good. I have spoken to him and he told me everything is okay. He has no problems.

'He is very happy to be back at Tottenham, and today he trained very well. He is happy.'

Asked is his return to White Hart Lane might restore any lost confidence after a difficult six months on Merseyside, Tardelli replied: 'I am sure of it because this is the Ireland team.'

The side head into Wednesday night's game at Croke Park knowing a second victory over the Georgians - they beat them 2-1 at the neutral venue of Mainz's Bruchweg Stadium in Germany in September - would take them level on points with Group Eight leaders Italy.

However, while Tardelli, like his compatriot Trapattoni, would relish putting the pressure on his native country, he knows hugely experienced coach Hector Cuper will have his own sights set firmly on revenge.

He said: 'It's a very, very important game. It will be very difficult because Hector Cuper is a good coach who has changed Georgia.'

Trapattoni backs Given to play until 40

Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni is backing Shay Given to emulate the feats of legendary compatriot Dino Zoff.

The Italian goalkeeper played well into his 40s in a distinguished career which brought him World Cup glory among a host of honours.

Former Italy boss Trapattoni has previously compared Given favourably to Gianluigi Buffon, and after seeing him secure a big money switch to Manchester City from Newcastle last week, is convinced he has much of his career still ahead of him.

The 32-year-old made a superb debut for City in yesterday's 1-0 Barclays Premier League win over Middlesbrough, during which he pulled off a string of fine saves to deny Brazilian striker Afonso Alves, and his international boss was delighted by his form as he joined up with the Ireland squad today.

He said ahead of Wednesday's World Cup qualifying group eight match against Georgia: 'Goalkeepers are lucky because they can play until they are 40.

'Touch wood, without injuries he could go on like Dino Zoff, who was playing when he was 42 years old.

'Shay, without injuries, could go on for many, many years.

'His mentality is strong and yesterday, his reactions were fantastic. He made three or four very difficult saves.'

Given's exploits for City earned him an early finish in this afternoon's training session at Gannon Park in Malahide, which at one point might have fallen victim to the weather.

Persistent snowfalls in Dublin throughout the morning had given cause for concern, but by the time Trapattoni and his players arrived at their training headquarters on the coast, the surface was fine.

Sunderland defender Paul McShane sat out as he continued his recovery from the hamstring injury he suffered during is club's 1-0 win over Fulham on January 27 - his condition will be assessed tomorrow.

Preston's Eddie Nolan has been drafted into the squad with Steve Finnan missing through injury, while Hull striker Caleb Folan has also withdrawn.

But 20-year-old Nolan and Reading striker Kevin Doyle, who faced each other in a 0-0 Coca-Cola Championship draw at the Madejski Stadium yesterday, remained at the team hotel nursing minor knocks.

Manchester United duo John O'Shea and Darron Gibson, and skipper Robbie Keane, will train tomorrow after being on duty for their clubs today.

Keane will join up having made a second debut for Tottenham in their 0-0 draw with Arsenal having been put out of his misery at Liverpool.

The 28-year-old's £12million return to White Hart Lane just six months after securing a £20.3million switch to the club he supported as a boy brought an end to a difficult period in his career.

Trapattoni refused to add to the debate over Rafael Benitez's use of a man he rates as his most influential player, but admitted Ireland will benefit if Keane is happier back on familiar territory than he was at Anfield.

He said: 'Every coach has their system and many times, Liverpool play with only one striker.

'Benitez has international experience and he likes that system. For me, Robbie Keane is important for us, maybe the most important man in the team because he not only scores, but he reads the game and he moves the ball and he understands the game.

'But we have one system and Liverpool has another system. Maybe it is better for him to go back because he will play more often for 90 minutes.

'The first question I was asked last year was 'Is it good if Keane goes to Liverpool?' and I answered it was good because it is a famous team and for him, it would be important to play European games.

'But I know him and I could see he was not happy.

'If he was not happy and he has decided to go back to Tottenham, I am sure it will be a good situation for him because he will regain his confidence, and psychologically, that will be very, very important for him.'

Quinn salutes 'fantastic McCarthy

Rocco Quinn has no doubts that James McCarthy will play at the highest level one day after watching him mastermind Hamilton's 2-1 Homecoming Scottish Cup win over Dundee United.

Quinn - who signed from Celtic on transfer deadline day - admits he has only become aware of just how talented the 18-year-old really is since joining the Lanarkshire club.

And the youngster showed his class again on Saturday with a man-of-the-match performance which helped Accies seal their place in the quarter-finals for only the second time since 1967.

A lovely piece of skill from McCarthy set up Chris Swailes for the leveller after Danny Grainger had fired United ahead, before Swailes claimed his second of the day to secure victory.

Despite a double from Swailes, it was McCarthy who earned most of the praise and Quinn insisted: "It's thoroughly deserved.

"I've played against him and knew what a good player he was.

"But coming here and training with him every day, I've seen just what a fantastic talent he is.

"The world is his oyster. The boy can go right to the top."

Naturally, McCarthy was singled out for abuse from the travelling United fans but Quinn added: "I don't think he is the type who lets that get to him.

"If the fans want to sing, they can sing. It's not going to affect his game."

Swailes netted twice within the opening 10 minutes of the second half and Accies survived a late onslaught to hold onto their narrow victory.

Quinn said: "I actually think the first one was coming to me and Chris took it off me - so I'm not too happy about that!

"But it was a great finish and I thought he was going to get his hat-trick too.

"Lucky he didn't or he would have been boasting about it in the dressing room."

Hamilton have now recorded six wins on the trot but Quinn insists everyone at New Douglas Park has their feet firmly on the ground.

He said: "We are just taking it one game at a time and not getting too carried away.

"There are a lot of games left this season so the important thing is just to keep doing what we are doing.

"I'm delighted, this was a fantastic victory for us. The dressing room is absolutely buzzing - an all-round great day."

Lee Wilkie could have snatched a replay for United with a header in stoppage time but boss Craig Levein had no real complaints about his side's performance.

He said: "We played all right in the first half and might have had a second goal and probably should have got a second goal.

"I'm not too disappointed in the way we played. Sometimes in games, fine lines decide the outcome of matches.

"We didn't defend particularly well at the second Hamilton goal, although for the first one I should probably credit the young boy McCarthy with a great bit of skill on the wide area.

"Wilkie probably had the best chance of the match, a header from six yards with the goalie going the wrong way and it's hit his heel.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Revitalised Irish will have too much for Georgia

With his top players now more settled in their club roles, Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni can look forward to making a bold statement in Group 8 on Wednesday night.

Buried deep under the avalanche of Irish transfer speculation over the last 10 days was the news that Bulgaria have appointed a new manager. Forty-one year old Stanimir Stoilov, a defender in his playing days, was in charge of Levski Sofia when they became the first Bulgarian club to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League back in 2006/07 and his appointment even forced Dimitar Berbatov to lift his head from his Old Trafford bubble long enough to mumble a few words of congratulations.

On Wednesday, though, Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland have an opportunity, at least in part, to render their reorganisation worthless. Should Ireland beat Georgia at Croke Park, they will open up a seven-point lead over Stoilov's side with a game more played. That would set up the enticing scenario of Ireland playing for a 10-point advantage over their Group 8 rivals when Bulgaria come to Dublin at the end of March.

All that, however, is putting the cart 100 paces in front of the horse. One of the great clichés of our time is that – wait for it – there are no easy games in international football but in this group, the words hold some resonance.

In the 10 games played so far, no team has scored more than two goals in any game and only once, in Italy's 2-0 win over Georgia, has the victor won by more than one clear goal. Proceedings are tight, all the more so as Georgia have improved since their 2-1 defeat to Ireland in Mainz last September.

Aside from that defeat to Italy, they've drawn 1-1 with Cyprus and held Bulgaria scoreless in Tbilisi. Indeed, they would have won that game had David Siradze's header hit the net rather than the bar at the death. The disorganised and disorientated side that Ireland faced in Germany have been beaten gradually into shape by Hector Cuper in the past six months.

That improvement, according to Marco Tardelli, means patience will be a important virtue on Wednesday night. "It is a match where it will be very important to get the public behind us. The fans will have to bear with us for the 90 minutes. It is very important that the team maintains its balance on the pitch. There will be a temptation to rush forward but there is no point in rushing forward and destroying the balance of the side."

Talk about singing from the same hymn sheet. Trapattoni must have loved physics as a child such is his present day devotion to this Irish team's equilibrium and in essence, he only has two of its constituent parts to ponder over in the next few days. The side picks itself bar right-back and Glenn Whelan's partner in central midfield. In defence, with Paul McShane and Steve Finnan both expected to miss the game, the manager will have to choose between Stoke City's Stephen Kelly and the ultra consistent Kevin Foley of Wolves. One is short of match practice, the other international experience, but both are capable of doing a job.

In midfield, Trapattoni has a straight choice between Keith Andrews and Darron Gibson. "Against Cyprus, Gibson had a much better second half than first half," he says. "After 20 minutes he was a little bit lost. Andrews has power. I saw him against Newcastle and he played with a mixture of experience, power and creativity. I want midfield players who can combine the three." That would indicate that Andrews will get the nod and if he does, the decision would hold a certain logic. He's played in seven of nine games since Sam Allardyce took charge – he was rested for the two FA Cup games against Sunderland – and if he's deemed good enough to stand in for Steven Reid at club level, there's no reason why he can't fulfil the same role at international level.

Those choices made, and any potential injuries this weekend aside, Trapattoni has a bunch of confident footballers to work with. Shay Given and Robbie Keane are likely to be high on the adrenalin buzz of moving clubs, while John O'Shea is currently playing a significant role in a record-breaking Manchester United defence. Aiden McGeady, after the tantrums of December, has started Celtic's last four games and Damien Duff, on the evidence of last week's hectic game against Sunderland, is back close to his twinkled-toed best on the wing. In fact, about the only player in the projected starting eleven who hasn't done something positive in recent weeks is Richard Dunne. We can only hope that the memory of how to defend well comes back to him soon but in truth, he and his fellow defenders are unlikely to be fighting fires all night long.

Theirs should be a watching brief, minding the house with the help of two sitting midfielders while Ireland's four attacking players attempt to storm the Georgian citadel. Let's hope that the quartet is enough to do the damage.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Given glad to have Richard Dunne in front of him

Shay Given is pleased to have Ireland teammate Richard Dunne in front of him at Manchester City.

The keeper, signed from Newcastle United , has lined up with the Blues’ skipper on many occasions for Ireland and he is fulsome in his praise of his new City team mate.

“Dunnie is one of the best centre-halves I have ever played behind,” Given told City's website, “and it will be a bit strange to play with him at club level having only done so for Ireland before. He’s a fantastic player.

“He’s dropped me the odd text over the last few days, and it was good to hook up with him. We go back over a few years with the Irish squad and we know each other well.”

The relationship between keeper and central defender is a key one, as Given continues, “I’ll need to get to know the rest of the lads here and work with them as well, but the centre half and goalkeeper is quite an important partnership. Richard and I have played together a lot for Ireland, and hopefully we’ll improve on that as well.”

Friday, February 6, 2009

Trapattoni emphasizes the importance of youth

In answer to a question put by One Team In Ireland, in an online question & answer session on the FAI website, Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni has stressed the imporance of giving young up-and-coming internationals as much exposure as possible on the international stage.

One Team In Ireland asked: How important do you feel it is having 'B' internationals and should we be putting more impetus on our u21 side?

Trapattoni answered: "I feel both are very important for giving players exposure to the pressures of playing at international level. It helps them develop a maturity."

"Our recent B match against Nottingham Forrest was very useful and brought through players like Caleb Folan and Anthony Stokes. So they are definitely useful and we would do more but the availability of players outside of FIFA dates does make it difficult if clubs don’t want to release them."

"Overall though, for the creation of a team is very important that players get as much time as possible in the international set up, be it at under 21 level or at senior b level. Players all have different roles for their clubs. They need to have the time to put that aside and get used to the roles we expect them to play in the international set up."

Trapattoni hails Keane's importance to the Ireland squad

Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni thinks Robbie Keane's transfer-window return to Tottenham could provide a big boost to his international form.

Keane secured a 12million pound move back to White Hart Lane on Monday, just six months after joining Liverpool in an initial 19million pound switch.

The former Wolves, Coventry, Leeds and Inter Milan striker failed to settle at Anfield, mostly due to Rafa Benitez's bizarre decision-making and squad selections.

But Trapattoni is hoping the 28-year-old's return to first-team action will mean he is sharper when he joins up for international duty.

"Robbie is a player who thrives on playing regularly," Trapattoni told the Ireland website in response to questions from the country's fans.

"Going to Spurs will give him regular games. That is good for Robbie and it is good for us."

Underlining Keane's importance to the Irish cause, Trapattoni bracketed him alongside some of the finest talents he has managed during his stellar coaching career.

"In my career, I have managed players of great quality like Michel Platini and Zbigniew Boniek at Juventus, Nuno Gomes at Benfica and Ramon Diaz at Inter to name just a few.

"To win, you need great champions. Robbie is one in this category.

"He is a natural captain and of great importance to the whole squad."

Keane is in line to make his second debut when Spurs travel to North London rivals Arsenal in the Premier League on Sunday.

He will then join the Ireland camp ahead of the World Cup qualifier against Georgia in Dublin on Wednesday.

Goals from Kevin Doyle and Glenn Whelan meant that Trapattoni's men returned with a 2-1 victory when the sides met in Germany in September, but the Italian is expecting to face a sterner challenge in the return fixture.

"They will be strong opposition and are not the same team we played last year in Mainz at all.

"Hector Cuper had only just taken on the job when we met last September but since then, they have improved substantially.

"I saw the match they played against Romania in November and they were a very well-organised side."

A win for Ireland would take them level on points with group leaders and world champions Italy in European qualifying group eight.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

McGeady enjoying life under Trapattoni

Ireland winger Aidan McGeady is enjoying life under Giovanni Trapattoni and has spoken of how he is given much more freedom on the pitch to move off the wing and challenge for possession in central midfield areas. This is in contrast to the rigid set-up he plays under at Celtic with Gordon Strachan.

"I've really enjoyed working under him," the Celtic and Ireland winger said.

"He wants everybody to work hard on the defensive side of the game but I wouldn't say that he was defensive-minded. He wants you to be progressive and encourages me to drift into little pockets of space."

"At Celtic I play out wide - and am told to stay out there - but with Ireland, Trapattoni wants me to come inside."

"It's not a playmaker role, but if I haven't seen much of the ball during the game he encourages me to come inside and try and pick up possession infield. He sees me doing more damage in the middle."

McGeady's creativity will once again be employed in this fluid role when Georgia arrive at Croke Park on Wednesday, for a match critical to both sides' hopes.

The visitors, beaten 2-1 in the corresponding fixture back in September, need a win to revive their faint hopes of qualification, while Trapattoni believes the psychological importance of victory means the game is also a must-win for his Irish team.

Ian Harte joins St Mirren

St. Mirren have completed the signing of experienced defender Ian Harte.

The 31-year-old former Ireland international, who has been capped 64 times for his country, recently left Blackpool after a short spell with the Championship side.

And now he has joined the Saints on a deal until the end of the season, something that has delighted Gus MacPherson, the manager of the Scottish Premier League side.

"We had been looking to strengthen that area during the January transfer window,” MacPherson told BBC Sport.

"We are delighted to now have a player who has played at the highest level.

"He has not played as much football as he would have liked, but I saw him play for Blackpool and also for Sunderland's reserves.”

He added, "We needed cover for that area as Franco Miranda received surgery on Tuesday and will be out for four to six weeks and we had thought we would have to make do and shuffle the pack.

"He is not here for financial reasons. He says he has had very good contracts throughout his career but just wants to come here to play football."

The player’s agent, Willie McKay, admitted that the Buddies have pulled off an impressive coup in signing the former Leeds United and Levante left-back.

"It will be a coup for them," he stated. "Celtic were prepared to pay £2 million for him two years ago.

"Ian has had a great career. Money is not the objective. He wants to play football and to play for a team that wants him.

"He was just filling in at Blackpool because their other two left-backs were injured, but they are coming back now and they could not afford to keep him."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Stephen Hunt signs new Reading contract

Ireland international Stephen Hunt has promised to do everything in his power to fire Reading back into the Premier League after agreeing a new contract.

The Portlaoise midfielder was strongly linked with a £5 million move to Wigan and Spurs in the January transfer window.

But Royals received no official bids a before Monday’s deadline and Hunt is now on the verge of penning a bumper new deal.

The 27-year-old winger was already under contract until 2011 and his new one will keep him tied to the club for a further year on improved terms.

The Ireland star revealed: “I had a clear head about three or four days before the QPR game. I knew what was going on so there wasn’t a problem.

“Even if people had come in for me on deadline from clubs I’ve been linked with, especially one club, I wouldn’t have gone there.

“I’m happy where I am and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season and hopefully we can kick on and get points on the board.

“We want to be in the Premier League and my big aim is to get in a lot of crosses and score lots of goals. That’s my target and I’m determined to have a big impact on the rest of the season.

“The speculation wasn’t really playing on my mind, But I think the best is still to come from me and hopefully the fans will see that over the next few months.”

Hunt is expected to put pen to paper any day now and Royals director of football Nick Hammond stated: “There are a few things to tie up but it should be a formality.

“There has been a lot of speculation about Stephen but we have worked hard to find a solution to keep him here.

“The most important thing for us in January was keeping the squad together and we have done that.

“People are aware about the £5 million clause in his contract but we never had an offer that met that figure. And I must say Stephen’s commitment throughout this time has been outstanding.”

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Stoke City hopeful of Kelly signing

Stoke City have confirmed they are still hoping to sign Birmingham City defender Stephen Kelly, despite the January transfer window closing at 5pm yesterday.

The Football Assocaition gave clubs special dispensation to complete deals which fell foul of yesterday’s poor weather, and City are now waiting to see if the loan deal agreed with Birmingham for Kelly is completed.

A statement published on the club’s official website said: “Stoke City Football Club are hoping to complete the signing Ireland international Stephen Kelly on loan from Birmingham City.

“The necessary paperwork to complete the deal for 25-year right-back was submitted before yesterday’s 5pm deadline. However, due to the adverse weather conditions the player was unable to travel to put pen to paper on the contract.”

A deal to sign the 25-year-old on loan for the rest of the season was agreed before Monday's transfer deadline.

However the Dublin born defender could not travel to the Britannia Stadium because of the snow.

Stoke manager Tony Pulis told BBC Radio Stoke: "It's up in the air at the moment but he's been one we've been monitoring for some time."
Kelly played every minute of Birmingham's Premier League campaign last season but has been restricted to just seven appearances this season because of a thigh injury.

Cillian Sheridan moves to Motherwell on loan

Motherwell have taken Ireland forward Cillian Sheridan on loan from Celtic until the end of the season.

Sheridan, 19, an Ireland youth international striker who played for Celtic in the Champions League this season, will remain with Motherwell for the remainder of the season.

The young County Cavan striker will bolster the Steelmen's frontline after the departure of top-scorer Chris Porter to Derby County.

has made 19 appearances this term, including two against Motherwell, scoring four goals.

The majority of his appearances have come from the bench however, with competition for places rife at Parkhead.

Keane returns to Spurs

Ireland striker Robbie Keane has vowed to win over the Tottenham Hotspur fans he upset by joining Liverpool in July after completing a swift return journey to North London yesterday.

After six frustrating months at Anfield, Keane became the third former player to be brought back to White Hart Lane by Harry Redknapp in the past month, with Tottenham paying £12 million to secure the striker’s return.

The deal for Keane, which had been a subject of speculation for weeks, always seemed likely to go through in regulation time. “It was a difficult decision to leave Tottenham in the summer,” Keane said. “It proved not to be the right move for me. I know some Spurs fans will feel I let them down by leaving, but I can assure them I shall be giving my all for this club.”

Keane — who has now commanded transfer fees in the region of £75 million — is ineligible for the Carling Cup final against Manchester United at Wembley on March 1, having played in the competition for Liverpool this season.

“Keane will have a massive impact,” Redknapp, who had already secured the return of Jermain Defoe and Pascal Chimbonda, said. “He is a good player with great enthusiasm and wants to win. It rubs off on people and we need people like that. He is full of energy and has fantastic ability. We will need him.” The desire to sign Keane became more pressing because Defoe injured a foot on Friday and is to have an operation today that will keep him out for ten weeks.

Daniel Levy, the Tottenham chairman, expressed his delight that Keane had chosen to return: "We never wanted Robbie to leave in the summer, we acknowledged the six years dedicated service he gave this club and reluctantly let him go," said Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy.

"I am delighted that he has chosen to return to us."

"We can all recall the passion and fight he displayed during his previous seasons with us. I know he is determined to give us his full commitment."

Monday, February 2, 2009

Given Looking forward to City challenge

Manchester City new boy Shay Given has admitted he did not sleep on Sunday night because of his excitement at the prospect of his first day at training.

Donegal born Given completed a £6m move from Newcastle United on Sunday and is expected to make his debut against Middlesbrough at Eastlands on Saturday.

The Ireland star has spent the last 11 years at St James' Park, so there was bound to be a bit of apprehension as he stepped into the unknown.

''I was so excited last night that I couldn't sleep,'' he told the club's website.

''It will be like being a kid at a new school at training. I want to meet the lads, get to know my new surrounds and get down to work. I feel the best years are still ahead of me. I work hard in training to keep improving. That will never change.''

A veteran of World Cup and Champions League campaigns, Given is clear to feature in City's assault on the UEFA Cup - which begins against Copenhagen next month.

''I was delighted to get the move tied up, because of the UEFA deadline last night,'' he added. ''I didn't want to be sat in the stand if City are going to be picking up the UEFA Cup later this season.''

Given's arrival has been viewed as bad news for England international Joe Hart, who has been City's number one for the past 18 months.

However, the 32-year-old believes he can offer Hart and City's other young goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel some valuable advice in the future.

''I have a lot of experience that I can pass on,'' he said. ''They might not be all that happy to see me, but I would like to think that we can all work together and all improve together.

''I rate Joe highly. He has done fantastically well this season but he is still very young in goalkeeping terms.'' Although a mass of players have been linked with City, Given is likely to be Mark Hughes' last signing of the transfer window.